Sunday, August 31, 2014

I don't mind being crazy

“There's a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line.”
― Oscar Levant

If I had a lot of money I'd be charmingly eccentric. I only have enough money to be crazy. 90% of the time that works out just fine for me.

Build a dome home? Energy efficient and can withstand tremendous snow loading and high winds.

Solar electricity? Installed solar over 20 years ago, it's still going strong and paid for itself years ago. Plus it saved me a lot of grief during storms.

Waste veggie burning vehicles? My friends thought I was nuts when I bought an old Mercedes Diesel to experiment with. Burning WVO has saved me tens of thousands of dollars over the years.

Buy an old ambulance? It made a great a great little camper van and sailboat tow vehicle.

That's just a sampling. There are days I even forget what's considered unusual as it's normal to me.

All well and good, but once in a while I have interact with the “real” world -the world with lawyers, bankers, town officials, police and others of the sort.

Sometimes it's all a matter of getting the “normal” person to buy into what I'm doing. The dome home required a building permit and I was able to convince the building inspector to issue one.

Banks, on the other hand, are a lot less fun. Banks don't want to lend on non-traditional housing. By taking the profit from selling my normal house I was able to erect the shell. Once in was physically in place and didn't fall down, then banks would talk to me, allowing me to get a loan to finish the project.

The veggie van has a traditional sort of paint job -Early American Hippie. My wife and granddaughters had a blast painting it. However, that's probably why law enforcement followed me across the whole state of North Carolina.

Now I'm in the process of doing another little project that will need the blessings of officialdom. I'll let you guys know how that turns out when I'm done. Whatever happens I'll be fine. When you live the way I do you learn to have a solid plan B.


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Of mice and men

Historically, rodents have taken their toll on mankind -everything from spreading disease to the destruction of stored food. Don't take their threat lightly.

Years ago I had a cat that was a terrific mouser. During all the long years she lived with us, mice were not a problem. Alas, cats don't live forever. Since then we've other cats not worth their cost in kibble. We don't have a cat now so mice have to be dealt with by other means.

Poisons work, but I don't like to use them. Picture a mouse finding a quiet place somewhere in your wall to die. At some point that mouse becomes odor and flies. If it staggers outside of the house, it becomes easy prey for other critters. Those animals then concentrate the poisons and become sick. It's not an environmentally friendly method.

Then there are traps of all kinds. We tried a clever trap that required no bait. Picture a steel box with a hole through it and a windup crank. Mouse would go though the hole, trip a pressure plate and be swept into a holding area. The mouse would make a fuss, attraction other mice and they too would end up into the trap. Clever design that worked well.

There's always a catch, isn't there? The first one is that you've got a trap full of mice that have to be disposed of somewhere. Just letting them outside the house won't work as they'll be back. Every time I had to empty the trap it was a two mile drive down the road.

Occasionally mice would get injured or killed by the windup mechanism. Did you know that mice are cannibalistic? Let's just say that the trap ended up with a disgusting mess inside, so disgusting I threw the whole trap away.

Now I'm back to using the cheap and simple snap traps with a tiny daub of peanut butter on the bait lever. I don't like emptying the traps, but at least they kill quickly and without poison.


Friday, August 29, 2014

Gun Nuances

So my lovely wife, a friend, and myself were having a little discussion at the local coffee shop. The lady at the table next to us commented on a news article. It was about the little girl who accidentally shot a firearms instructor with a Uzi.

We agreed with her that it was awful. She must have thought we were anti-gun or something. Then we went to say how I would not have let my daughter use an Uzi at that age. Nope, at that age she was shooting a single shot .22. Only later did I let her work up to a .22 semi-automatic. Handguns came much later.

Then I went on to say what I thought about the Uzi in general. (I'm not a fan)

The lady at the next table was pretty upset with us. She chewed us out a little then left -only to come right back in because she forgot to pay.

Letting that little girl shoot an Uzi was irresponsible. Teaching children how to safely handle firearms isn't, in my opinion. In fact, my kids understood gun safety and could properly handle a gun long before they held one with a bullet in it. When they did it was under close adult supervision.

There's a perception out there that anyone who owns a gun is part of a single right wing conservative block. That's not the case. There pro gun folks who are very Liberal in all their other political beliefs. I know of one lesbian feminist fiction writer who also, under a different name, covered gun shows. In the real world, gun owners fall into a wide spectrum.

In spite of what the NRA would have people think, there are nuances to the whole gun debate. In fact, I don't belong to the NRA myself. They recruit using fear tactics that's a big no no for me. I refuse to be manipulated by fear and emotion.

I feel bad for the family of the instructor who died. I feel bad for the little girl who now has to live with accidentally shooting someone. That doesn't mean I don't think kids should be using guns -appropriate guns with responsible adult supervision. Knowledge is power.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Of paperwork and adventure

Paperwork ate up most of my day. Too bad as it was a really nice one too. It's almost as bad as those poor kids who are back in school now. I bet we all were looking out the window wishing we were doing something else.

With any luck all the head scratching will save me grief later on in the year when my lovely wife and plan on traveling. Being foot lose and fancy free can take a lot of planning. We aren't planning our trip in the sense of knowing what we'll do every day. What we are doing is setting things up so we'll have options. Part of that is putting as much of our business on autopilot as possible.

Basically I'm trying to accomplish what we attempted to do last year. I was working towards simplifying our financial life and then our credit union got bought out by a bigger institution. It took months to sort out the mess that caused. They did things like set up a whole new on-line banking system, then totally scrap that and start with something else -including all new passwords and bank cards. Things that one week were impossible to do became mandatory.

It did get me thinking about all those people who've gone off and had adventures. How much mind numbing stuff did they have to deal with before heading out? Anything requiring a bit of money and manpower must have been a nightmare. Personally I'd rather deal with crocodiles and bears.

Then I think about Joshua Slocum who was the first to sail around the world single handed. He had very limited funds. The guy rebuilt an old derelict yawl and set out with no support. He sailed around the world and wrote a darn fine book about it. It's amazing what he was able to do with such limited funds.

On the other hand, while his funds were limited, he had a vast store of knowledge to draw upon. His skills encompassed all things nautical, from boat building to navigation. He even had pirates to contend with. Slocum was a fine example of the value of skills and mental toughness.

So when I get a bit overwhelmed with mundane things, I think of what the old sea captain was able to accomplish. There's no sense in letting the little things get in the way of grander schemes.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Process of elimination

I'm still tweaking the veggie van. It ran pretty well for a while, even if it did take a bit longer than it used to before it could be switched from diesel to veggie fuel. Once it did switch over it ran well, so I went on to more pressing problems.

There was an awful lot of work done on the fuel system. I suspected a new addition by my mechanic may have been part of the problem for the slow switch over times. He installed a clear plastic filter so that he could see if there was any air in the system. It worked pretty well for that. However, I began to suspect that it was causing too much resistance in the fuel line.

Just to confuse the issue, I've been using a thicker oil. Nights have been cool so the slow switch over times might have been caused by that. However, recently we've had a warm spell and the fuel still gave me some problems. That pointed my attention away from the oil and back to the new filter.

Finally I got a chance to remove and inspect the new filter. It was slowly plugging up and even without a plugged screen, the feed holes were fairly small.

I've removed the filter to better increase the fuel flow. Once in a while I'm going to reinstall it to check for air leakage, then remove it for normal running.

Is it any wonder that I carry a couple of tool boxes and a bunch of parts in the van?


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Thanks for your support

The old budget has been pretty tight this month. We didn't have anything special planned so we weren't too worried about the lack of funds. However, out of the blue we had the chance to go with two of our daughters three grandkids to Storyland. (NH amusement park.)

As luck would have it Google had just deposited a check into my bank account. It's from the ads posted on this blog. I'd like to thank all my blog readers for your support. I don't make big money from this blog, but the occasional check always seems to arrive at a good time.

There's a funny story about writing. (mature audiences only) Writing is like sex. First you do it for yourself for your own amusement. Then you share it with someone else. Eventually you end up doing it for money. :)

When I first started this blog I struggled with whether or not to allow ads. In the end I figured people could either ignore them or go to some other blog. For a few people the ads may even be relevant and useful, so I went with it. These ads will never make me rich, but they have provided a bit of occasional play money. Thanks for your support.


Monday, August 25, 2014

The better the equipment, the less safe the Police

Anyone who contemplates facing a riot can be forgiven for wanting the best equipment possible. If it happens to have been designed for a war zone, all the better. However, if police need war equipment they've already failed at their job.

Thanks to the US having been at war for many years, there's a lot of military equipment available to police -for little to no money. Cash strapped police departments are quick to pick up these “force multipliers.” They have some idea that equipment will make cops safer.

They are wrong. What actually works is having police on the ground interacting with people on a day to day basis. There's nothing as effective as the humble beat cop doing his daily rounds. He soon knows his neighborhood very well and they know him. Small problems are less likely to turn into large problems.

Unfortunately, beat cops cost money. Cops in cars can cover a lot more territory. While they can cover more miles, they do a lot less actual police work. Imagine shopping yard sales at 40 mph and you get some idea how effective it is.

When you put police in armored vehicles, they are even less connected with the community. You are an invading force. Policing from armored vehicles has been done before. Apartheid South Africa comes to mind. How did that work out for them in the end?

Yes, being a beat cop is a tough job. It is totally exposed and his life is on the line. If you don't like that don't be a cop. It's like wanting to be a fireman and not wanting to go into burning buildings. There's a level of risk that proper police work demands.

A cops best protection is a civil society. When he's thought of as part of the community doing an essential service he's in less danger. Problems arise when he's thought of as a enforcer for an unfair political/economic system. Politicians who only cater to the rich and influential's rights are the one's putting cops in danger. No amount of armor can replace social justice.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Day off

I'm taking a day off to recharge my batteries.

Stay well everyone.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Lessons from the Maine Hermit

For almost 30 years Christopher Knight lived as a hermit in the Maine woods. He did not hunt, fish, garden or practice many wilderness skills. He lived on stolen food and equipment. To remain hidden he never built a fire but relied on a propane stove and stolen propane bottles.

When he was caught in April 2013 the original story about him peaked my interest. The area in Maine where he chose to hide is little different than here in Northern New Hampshire. Survival challenges are pretty much the same.

I used to spend a lot of time alone in the woods, but usually 2-4 days at a time. Once I spent a week in the mountains with no contact with other people. Compared to Mr. Knight, I was only dabbling. Even so, it's possible to get some idea what's necessary for survival.

Theoretically, it's possible to move out into the woods and start living exactly the way the Maine hermit did. With a little planning, it would be possible to stockpile food and supplies and never have to take the risk of stealing. Part of the reason the hermit was able to stay undetected so long is that he had a very tiny footprint. His camp was small and hidden. By not trying to live off the land he was able to limit his movements. Game wardens are always on the lookout for people hunting or fishing in violation of the laws. Gardens take up space, allowing more chance of discovery from people on the ground or aircraft. His big risky behavior was his stealing -about 40 break ins per year. However, that averages to less than once a week. It could not have been too risky as he was able to do it for almost 30 years.

There were a couple guys who lived in the woods here in Northern New Hampshire, but they weren't exactly hermits. One young guy lived in a simple lean to in the hills. He made money as a trapper. Occasionally he'd come out of the hills to visit friends and drink at the bars. The guy loved his booze. Sadly, he died young from cancer. Another guy was a Vietnam Vet who could only sleep comfortably in the woods. He had a couple of simple shelters hidden in dense forest. Once I stumbled across one of them. It was a low log cabin, about 6 X 8 feet with just a door. He wasn't there at the time. I quietly left, making sure to leave no trace of my visit. The guy would hike into town fairly often. He'd go to the library to read the newspapers then disappear back into the woods.

My dad used to have a hunting camp 9 miles up a dirt road. His camp sat about ¼ mile off the main road. While not isolated in these days of 4X4 vehicles and snowmobiles, it was pretty remote. The cabin was a simple 16 X 16 foot structure. It had a bunk bed, a single bed, a woodstove, propane stove and two propane lights. There was no running water and it had an outhouse out back. This cabin, simple as it was, provided a lot more comfort than Knight's tent. Thanks to the woodstove winter nights were fairly comfortable. I could have survived there for a long long time -without having to rob anyone either.

Christopher Knight's skill set was a mixed bag. He had stealth and the mental mind set to survive uncaught for a long long time. However, he only survived because he had a functioning civilization to plunder. Had those camps not been full of supplies, refreshed on a regular basis, his strategy would not have worked.

Over and over I hear people say that in a collapse they'll just run off and live in the woods. Yes, it can be done, but it's not easy. How many people who say that have never spent any time alone trying to stay undetected? Darn few. If that's your plan, fine. Take a two week vacation and disappear like Christopher Knight for a short while. See how that goes. Then tell me if it's a good plan or not.


Friday, August 22, 2014

Rambo dreams

First some background. I grew up exposed to guns. By the time I was 5 years old my dad had me shooting a .22 at the range. Hunting is a normal way of life in rural New Hampshire. Target shooting is a well loved sport for both men and woman.

Here's the thing. Guns are no big deal. Just about everyone around where I live have many guns. Quite a few have concealed carry permits. Nobody is strutting around with a gun on their hip like they are macho. They would be ridiculed, like a guy with a big SUV compensating for personal shortcomings. Guns are not waved around to settle arguments.

Some folks collect guns. So what? Some people collect Star Wars action figures.

Here's how many people end up with an “arsenal.” They grow up hunting with dad using one of his guns. When they get old enough they buy a few guns of their own. They might get a shotgun for bird hunting. Then they might get a semiautomatic rifle for deer, bear, or moose hunting. Somewhere along the line a .22 is purchased because ammo is pretty expensive for the other guns and they want to practice. Maybe they buy a handgun or two to compete at the range with their buddies. Here's the thing about guns, with a little care they last a long long time. Eventually they end up with their granddad's and their dad's guns. To the press, a dozen or so guns looks like an arsenal.

Now I've got nothing against the guy who wants to collect a military style rife. Functionally, it's not all that much different from my deer rifle. Many of those guys are like the Star Wars collector who wants all the accessories, including a model Death Star.

Then there are those asshats who think they are Rambo. Thank the creator it's a tiny fraction of those who own guns. Some have fantasies of defending their way of life against an oppressive government. If they are very lucky it will always be a fantasy, like sleeping with twins, or pitching in the major leagues.

Do you know what happens to insurgents who go against professional soldiers? They die. In droves. The burn rate is astronomical. Yes, those who survive are tough and smart, but on the job training probably kills 8 out of 10 in short order. The reality is a lot less fun than the fantasy.

Guns can be good protection, but not against tanks, drones, planes and well trained troops. Against the occasional drugged out home invader -sure. I defended my home with a gun. Rabies was pretty rampant in the small wild animal population. A groundhog was acting very peculiar, like it was infected, so I shot it. It might have attacked my kids or my dog. Not very Rambo like, I know, but that's real life. Someone is much more likely to shoot at a weasel in the hen house than a human intruder -and that's a good thing.

Inner city gun culture scars the crap out of me. It's everything I've been trained not to do with a gun. If you are in a place where gun violence is common, the solution isn't to get a gun of your own. The solution is to get the heck out of there by any means possible.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Resisting the future

The local big box store has installed a whole new section of self service check outs. I'm avoiding them like the plague. No doubt the corporate masters have dreams of eliminating more jobs and milking a few more dollars from their operations.

A restaurant chain that my lovely wife and I used to occasionally visit has taken to putting little electronic menus on all the tables. Not only do I refuse to use them, I'm no longer giving that restaurant chain my business. Those tablets are just distasteful enough to drive me to their competitors -a place with humans to take my order.

I'm such a Luddite that I don't have one of those electronic toll EZ Pass things on my windshield for road tolls. Instead I pay a human being cash money. To be honest, I probably use a toll booth about 15 times per year. I might feel differently if a toll was part of my daily commute. Then again, maybe not. When the system was first set up in my state, there were significant discounts for using the electronic passes. Now there is very little price difference.

Maybe someday there won't be a choice. Being able to interact with a live human being will be history. Of course, then there will be very little reason to do business with those companies. Humans need interaction with other humans. Take that away and there's no reason to go out at all. Might as well stay home and order everything on-line.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Ferguson news bubble

I don't really know what's going on in Ferguson . . . and most likely you don't either.

Without even realizing it most people get their news from outlets that cater to their biases. “Reliable” news sources are those that cater to people's existing political slant. How many Liberals do you know who also tune into Conservative news outlets or the other way around? Darn few, I bet. News caters to many demographic slices: age group, income, education, region, religion -you name it, there's a news outlet with that slant. Impartial news, always fragile, is even rarer these days.

So what's the deal with Ferguson? What can be trusted? Even life video streams of the same event can give different impressions depending on what's in the frame.

I look for certain red flags. A big one is the arrest and harassment of news reporters. That's a sure sign the people in charge want to twist the narrative. I'm always a little freaked when police use military equipment and tactics. That's not the actions of a community safety service but of an invading army. Of course, with the National Guard called out, it's now definitely a military action. Violence across racial/class lines always has the potential for exploding into something larger. All the outsiders flocking to the troubled area with their axes to grind only makes things worse. These events often start out as one thing and grow into something else.

The tensions have been growing for years. I've a good friend of mine with connections to the area. For years I've been hearing about how unsafe the whole St. Louis area is. People are wary of other people, but also don't trust the police. Personal safety always seemed to be a hot topic -not a sign of a good place to be. As a person who travels a lot, I've a mental list of such places.

An astute news consumer can get close to the truth, but it takes work. It also takes pouring through reports from outlets that may make one uncomfortable. To be honest, I'm not doing the work myself. My main concerns are about what this all means. Is it the start of greater National unrest? What are the greater trends? Mainly though, what I'm going to do is give the whole area a wide berth.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Quick Trip to Boston

Short post today from on the road. My youngest daughter who lives in California was in Boston for half a day. My lovely wife and I went down to to meet her before she had to fly back. Pretty crazy to fly across the country for half a day, but I guess that's life in the modern world.

We are going to be home late, so I thought I do this quick post while I could.


Monday, August 18, 2014

If it still works

Early adopters are the first to try new technologies. That implies they are also the first to abandon older technologies. I'm not one of those people.

I'm the guy who owns a 5 year old cell phone that I paid $10 for. It still works. Two previous cell phones were working just fine but the cell phone tower system was upgraded so the phones no longer worked. That kinda ticked me off a little.

There's a working record player in my kitchen. My van sound system uses cassette tapes. There's even a working VCR in my living room. It cost $25 when new and we still use it. Some day hipsters will be knocking on my door trying to buy my retro electronics.

One thing I no longer have is a working 8 track player. Some technology deserves a quick death, and 8 track was one of them.

Years ago my lovely wife made me get rid of my cast iron Underwood typewriter and I still miss it. I learned to type on those old manual machines. That's why I have to keep replacing keyboards on my computers. Sometimes I forget myself and revert to the typing style needed to work those heavy iron behemoths. Plastic keyboards are not built for my heavy handed ways.

Some of my tools go back generations. There's quite a few wrenches in my collection that were originally used on steam locomotives. Those old tools were built to last.

I've nothing against new technology. After all, this is being written on a laptop computer. (no steam involved at all) However, I'm not going to abandon older tech if it still does the job.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Shopping the Internet place

Living way out in the woods, yet being able to buy things on-line, is a modern miracle. From the comfort of one's home it's possible to order any number of products. Lately I've caught myself not even thinking of where the stuff I order comes from. It's like “The Internet” is all one place, as if Cyberspace has a physical address. It's surprising how easy it is to forget that when everything comes to my mailbox or from the UPS truck.

Once in a while there's something that jars me into realizing how far some of these things come. Recently I ordered a manual coffee grinder. It should be good on the boat as its grinder parts are ceramic instead of iron that would rust. The package arrived from Amazon in good shape. When I opened it up, most of the manual was in Japanese. The English portion read like a poor Google translation. (maybe that's what it was)

Then there's the company that I buy epoxy from. I used to be surprised at how fast they could fill my orders. It wasn't until I'd ordered from them a few times when I realized the company is located in my state. No wonder shipping time was so short.

That's the thing about the Internet. On-line, it doesn't much matter where a company is located. International shipping is still cheap enough that products can compete with locally produced items.

I shop local when I can. This time of the year most of food budget is spent locally. Local companies get my business even if they are few dollars more. However, living in a rural area limits choices. On-line shopping has made the whole world easier than shopping local.

Of course, anything that upsets International shipping: war, higher fuel costs, or trade disputes, could suddenly make local shopping the only option. Should that happen, only locally produced items would be available,and there are fewer and fewer of them. Even things that are produced locally are made with parts shipped from all over the world.

Shopping “The Internet” is a modern marvel, but we forget how fragile it really is.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Thoreau was right

Simplify simplify simplify. Maybe just one “simplify” would have been enough.

The recent hassles with my van has reinforced my suspicion that some things have gotten too complicated. Many have lamented the fact that our vehicles have gotten too sophisticated for the home mechanic. That's true enough, but the old cars weren't always that great either. Fiddling with points and dealing with constant flat tires was no picnic. Some things have improved. If only they would improved the bad things and kept the rest simple.

Overall there's just so much more stuff that can go wrong. Air conditioning, emission controls, ABS brakes, cruise controls, and so on and so on. On the other hand, I'm not a fan of horses either. I think those who can get by with a bicycle are smarter than the rest of us.

Homes have also gotten too complicated. When I see a “totally wired home” I cringe a bit. They've automated and electrified things best lest simple. Remember when if you wanted fresh air you just opened a window? Simplicity itself. I like heating and cooking with wood. No electricity or specialty fuels needed. If it's seasoned wood and and fits though the stove door, it's good to go.

One of my long term goals is to spend at least half the year living on a sailboat. Of course it won't be one of those million dollar marvels that dominate boat shows these days. Just read the blog of anyone living on such a boat. They are forever fixing diesel engines, repairing electric winches, fixing water makers, servicing generators, and sorting out electronic issues. That's not even touching on the complicated sailing systems. Then they are forever waiting for parts or searching for good mechanics for everything from their refrigeration to radars.

At what point did these modern conveniences become necessities? Are any of them as good as dancing by the light of a campfire on a beach, with a bottle of wine in one hand and a lovely lady in the other? I've made my choice.


Friday, August 15, 2014

Burning gravy

Do petroleum companies still advertise the quality of their fuel products? I don't watch TV so I don't know if they do or not. Those old commercials occurred to me as I was fueling up the veggie van. The grease it's been burning lately is the consistency of cold gravy. The fuel jugs have to sit in the sun for a while before the grease can be poured into the fuel tank. Sometimes the plastic jugs have to be squeezed to get the waste veggie to flow out fast enough.

The van starts on diesel. The engine coolant runs though a copper coil in the veggie tank. There's a second coil wrapped around the veggie fuel filter. Before long the grease gets hot and looks like it did when it was in the fryers. At that point a switch is thrown and the van burns grease.

For a few years my waste veggie source, a popular restaurant, had switched to canola oil. While I'm not sure about health claims for the oil, it makes a more convenient fuel. Canola stays liquid at much lower temperatures than the soybean oil the restaurant currently uses. That was great when my veggie vehicle was a pickup truck as the jugs rode in the unheated truck bed. Now that we have a van the veggie rides inside a heated compartment and soybean oil isn't a problem.

Since the van came back from the garage it's been all over the place. Yesterday my lovely wife and I took a ride over to the lumber yard. 12 foot long lumber fits right inside the van -very handy when the weather is nasty. That heavy thick veggie oil burned just fine on our 100 mile round trip and that's what really matters.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Practice Run

Yesterday my lovely wife and I watched a little film on Youtube, The Challenge. It's about the 2013 Everglades Challenge, a 300 mile expedition race for small boats. Boats have to be launched by their crews from the beach. No motors are allowed, only sail and human power.

I've been following the race for years. In our travels with our Oday 19, my lovely wife and I just happened to sail about 80% of the course. Coincidence? Not really. I was curious about what the course looked like. Many people can sail or paddle 300 miles. Doing it with a time limit is where the challenge is. My wife and I took our time, only sailed during daylight hours, and sat out some nasty weather. The trip took about 3 weeks, instead of the 8 days allowed for the race.

Regular readers of my blog know I'm building a small sailboat, an Ooze Goose. It's no coincidence that it's small enough for me to drag off a beach. The design has been altered with the Challenge in mind. It's of heavier construction, has a bigger cabin, and a better rowing seat. Having sailed the waters, I think it'll do the job -if I pick my route wisely and keep an eye on the weather.

While not the fastest design, it does have some advantages. A big one is the fact it has a cabin large enough to sleep in. Being able to quickly get warm, dry, and out of the bugs is a huge advantage over trying to sleep in a cold wet tent. The boat could be quickly pulled up on a beach, tied up in the mangroves, or even anchored out. This race is not a sprint. Being able to get some decent sleep makes a big difference in the long run.

Now all I've got to do is finish the boat, practice sailing, pay the registration, and get down to Florida for the first Saturday in March. It's all doable. One of the considerations is the cost. There's a $395 registration fee, and some pricey mandatory equipment. No, I'm going to beg for money. Really. There are more worthy causes than some middle aged guy going out to have fun. If for some reason I can't swing it this March, there's always the next.

I've decided to attempt the race. That focuses the mind. Now I'm in training. Many years ago my dad and I used to race canoes as a father and son team. Dad had an interesting training system. At the time our competition swore by certain exercises and running to build stamina. Dad and I just went paddling an awful lot. When the race would start my instructions were to paddle as hard as I could the whole way. It wasn't a sophisticated strategy, but we won a lot of races. My plan is to do a lot of sailing and rowing to get ready. Taking off a few pound wouldn't hurt either.

After last winter's sail down the Florida coast I tried to convince myself that I was satisfied and didn't need to race the Challenge. As you can see, that hasn't worked.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Deep thought and cheap trinkets

There's something weird about humans. For most of us it appears we'll happily give up our deepest philosophies for a few cheap thrills. A recent example of that is all the Eastern countries with long spiritual traditions now diving headlong into consumerism. They are only the most recent examples. The virtues of poverty and sacrifice don't get much traction these days in Christian countries.

Only the bounty of fossil fuels has allowed the average person to come under the sway of commercialism. In previous civilizations only a tiny elite could experience such vices. The rest of us poor slobs were too busy with the basics of survival. Having a stoic philosophy or the promise of a better afterlife helped people get through their days. Thanks to abundant cheap energy normal people have been able to acquire stuff -sometimes so much stuff it's a disease.

Science has shown that having stuff does make us happy, but only to the point where the basics are satisfied. Beyond that, more and more stuff is less and less satisfying. It's a trap. The modern world provided us with the ability to satisfy our basic needs. The pursuit of material things paid off, at first. No wonder so many of us gave up on everything else. However, once we have enough, material things cannot make us any happier. Then it's good to have something to nurture the soul: philosophy, spirituality, or even a religion. Whatever works.

Of course, lately the pursuit of cheap trinkets hasn't been working out as well as it used to. Wages are down and cheap material things aren't so cheap anymore. Those who strive for material happiness are going to be in for some major disappointment.

At least philosophy is a sustainable activity.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Van to go please

It looks like the veggie van is back in business. Not to jinx it, but it looks like the fuel issues have finally been sorted out. All it took was time, money, a good mechanic, and more time and money. Good thing the van burns free fuel as buying fuel is not in the budget right now.

My mechanic knows that I plan on traveling south this winter so he's making sure it'll be able to handle long trips. The US is big. One suggestion is that I get the van's wheels aligned before we head south, but get the work down with the weight that the van will be carrying. Heavy loads change the wear patterns on the tires if not accounted for. That's something that would not ave occurred to me.

Right now my small solar electric system is powering a shed down by the lake. While it's been nice to have power down there, it hasn't gotten as much use as I thought it would. Because of that the 105 watt panel, battery, and electronics will be mounted on the van. It will be more useful there. Solar power will extend our ability to dry camp away from regular camp grounds.

I've a simple 12V thermoelectric cooler. They are not nearly as efficient as the ones with compressors. However, an efficient one would cost me at least $500, and the thermoelectric one was given to me. It is well insulated. Turning it off while stopped overnight didn't hurt the food any. That's fine when we are on the move, not so fine while staying somewhere for a few days. If campground power is available, we do have a 120v adapter, so it has worked out so far. Being able to plug it into its own solar electric system will save the starting batteries.

Another thing I'd like to do is improve the ventilation. The windows in the back don't open. It wasn't an issue when the van was in service as an ambulance. In its new life as a camper, better ventilation while stopped would be good. We've gotten by using a fan to circulate the air from the cab windows, but that didn't quite cut it on really hot days.

There are number of these little improvements that have been put off until the fuel issues were fixed. You don't worry about painting the trim of your house while the attic is on fire. Priorities.


Monday, August 11, 2014

Epoxyed my ear to the phone

There I was, working on my little sailboat project. I mixed up a big batch of epoxy. After epoxy is mixed the clock is running. Because it's often on the cool side here in New Hampshire I use the fast setting hardener. That's great, except it was warm today so my working time was pretty short. Epoxy is not cheap so once mixed the only thing to do is to keep going until it's used up.

The first thing I had to epoxy was inside the cabin, under the rowing seat. There are some rough areas in the cabin because all the sanding has yet to be done. That's how my leg got scrapped up pretty bad. So there I am, my leg is bleeding and I'm working upside down with my head stuck in a tight place. That's when I notice the roller pan is leaking, leaving little trails of epoxy all over the cabin floor. So in addition to rolling the new stuff, the drips are being rolled out to keep the floor smooth.

Finally, I finish up and crawl out of the cabin. Since I've got my grubby clothes on I take the time to mix another batch, this time with thickener. That was used to strengthen some of the joints in the cockpit. Once done the disposable gloves, eye protection and my epoxy splattered shirt came off.

Only then did I take the time to clean my scrapped up leg and apply antibiotic ointment. Fortunately, I clot pretty quickly. Good thing I'm not taking a daily aspirin.

A little later the phone rings. After a short conversation I try to hang up the phone. It was stuck to my ear and had to be gently pulled off. Unnoticed, some epoxy had gotten on my ear and had dried to the point where it was very tacky. Good thing it was not a long long phone call.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Solutions don't have to fix everything

There are a lot of naysayers when it comes to alternative systems. As much as I hate to admit it, sometimes they have a point. It's impossible to run all the diesels on vegetable oil. If we tried to heat every house with wood the forests disappear. Hunting and gathering can only feed a tiny percentage of the world's population. You get the idea.

They are right in thinking we have not one thing to replace fossil fuels. On an individual level there's no reason to not do the things that work. Even if they don't work for everybody, they can work for some. It's been my experience that even those limited solutions are not used to their maximum effect.

Blame it on herd mentality. Most people want to fit in. Doing something alternative is “weird” so should be shunned. I've had people get angry with me for the things I've done. One guy was mad that I was able to build a dome home -and it didn't leak. (like all domes are supposed to leak) Another guy told me that running a vehicle on waste vegetable oil is impossible -after I'd been doing it for over 10 years. Heck, I've even see people freak out that I was eating wild plants on a hike. That's not were food is supposed to come from. I could go on but you get the idea.

You don't have to save the world. Taking care of you and yours is hard enough. If some niche solution fits your situation and lets you live better, don't worry that everyone can't do it. They won't want to do it anyway -unless it became the trendy and approved new thing. If you happen to have a site where micro hydro works then go for it. Good solar exposure? Then go with solar thermal and solar electric. Live in a forest? Then wood heat is the thing for you. Maybe your location is good for windmills. Perhaps you live in a place with good soil for growing things. Do what makes sense for where you are, but by all means do something. If something can improve your life and lessen your negative impact on the planet, make it happen.

Don't feel guilty that you are doing something to better your life and not everyone can do that exact same thing. Noah didn't stop building his ark just because no one else was.


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Valuable Resources

It's a finite planet. Stuff, just about any stuff at all, is going to run out. We can debate how long resources will last. We can debate the probability that stuff in short supply can be replaced with stuff in greater supply. None of that changes the fact that it's a finite planet.

There are more people on the planet than ever before. Every one of those people use and need stuff. Some use a little stuff. Some use a lot more stuff. Remember though, in the end, there's only so much stuff. People are a big burden on the planet's carrying capacity.

Then I got to thinking. Maybe we are looking at people in the wrong way. What if we moved them from the liability column to the asset column? How would we do that?

Well the first thing we'd do is take a lot better care of the people. People are more useful if they have enough to eat, shelter, security, education and a chance to develop their creativity. It's that creativity that we are all going to need to survive. It can be done. One small example. In the US there is both a housing glut and a homeless problem. Absurd. It's just the political/economic system keeping the two apart. Problems like that need to be fixed. A person with no place to live is too focused on that immediate problem to be able to devote much time to greater problems.

Speaking of absurd misuse of current resources, what about all those cultures and countries that limit the opportunities of women? They are fighting the creativity fight with one hand tied behind their back. That can't last, not if we are going to solve us some problems.

So yes, we the world has problems, but people are problem solves. Doesn't it only make sense to give as many of those people the tools and opportunity to solve those problems?


Friday, August 8, 2014

Base of operations

One of the problems for a do-it-yourselfer is having a base of operations. Even something as simple as working on one's own car is banned. Fewer places allow a car to be jacked in a driveway while major work is done. We can't actually do anything on our property as that would lower the neighbor's values.

It's good to have a piece of land far enough away from neighbors. A little power tool noise won't bother anybody. A big pile of parts and materials won't be mistaken for junk. I find it's nice to live in a place where my car is currently up on ramps and there's a boat project in the driveway. No one will complain.

The big problem with a fixed base of operations is the fact that it can't run away. People from the city move close and start to complain. Zoning laws are passed. The tax man aways knows where to find you.

I met one man who was so upset with encroaching rules, regulations, fees, and taxes that he sold everything. He moved his family into a big 5th wheel and vowed to never own taxable property ever again. There are plenty of people living on the road full time, and not all of them are well off retired folks. There are families, young singles, and even poorer older people too.

Of course, you've got to keep your home in a running condition. If not, some “authority” will have it seized and scrapped. Paying garages to do all the work quickly gets expense. Doing the work yourself is cheaper -if you can get away with it. There are garages that rent space and tools, so that's sometimes an option. Now and then people haul all the parts and tools they need to some remote location and hope to fix the problem before asked to move on. It helps to have fiends to call on. Maybe you have a friend who'll let you use their property. If all your friends are also living the gypsy life, they can at least lend tools and hands. Being able to send someone out for more parts is a huge deal too.

During my sailing adventures I've met many people who've abandoned their land home for life on the water. At a minimum, they have to keep their boats up to Coast Guard standards. Over and over I've met people who've anchored for years in one place, only to find it turn unfriendly to live aboards as the political landscape changes. The best solution is having a boat ready to leave at a moments notice. That takes keeping it in good running condition.

How is that done? Not every boat job can be done while it's in the water. Many boats require a haul out at least once a year. That requires the equipment of a boat yard. At one time it was common to pay a small haul out fee, live on the boat in the yard, and then do the work yourself. Few places allow that now, especially in the developed world. If you have to pay for all the work, and find a place to live, it gets expensive real quick.

Dave Z is building a new boat to live on. He and Anke currently live on a home built boat. Finding a good place to build a boat is always an issue, especially when still living on one. You need a place that will let you live aboard while not so remote that it's impossible to get materials.

Dave's boats have some good features. They are built with common materials are are designed to be beached. It's possible to land the boat during high tide, do hull work, then float away on the next high tide. Now you don't need to build a boat of Dave's design. (though for some that might be exactly what to do) What you should do is learn from his example -simple boats, easily repaired, with the ability to be grounded.

My current base of operations, my dome home on a lake, is pretty sweet. I'm near water, in the woods, and can work on my projects without neighbors hassling me. However, the burdens of a fixed base of operations gets a little tougher every year. Income has not kept up with the demands of home ownership. Sometimes I feel the pinch, and during those times the gypsy life looks pretty good.


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Vacation and back, barely

For many years my lovely wife and I have been camping on the Maine coast during the summer months. We found a great place when the kids were little. One day we got a baby sitter and drove up and down the coast checking out different campgrounds. We fell in love with one and keep going back.

The kids are grown and have kids of their own. This year the count was two daughters, with husbands, and three grandkids. One son-in-law's mother and stepfather were there as was his brother, wife and toddler. My other daughter brought along friends and their two young kids. Even family friends spent a night there. We really did not want to miss the camping trip.

Our van has been giving us nothing but trouble. In fact it's scheduled for repairs to the diesel fuel system. To keep it on the road, I've had to run diesel in the veggie tank. However, on a long trip I can mix in some waste vegetable oil, as long as I ran it low and then filled the tank with diesel again before shutting down for the night. It's a bit complicated, but doable.

We had a great three nights at the campground. Good times had by all. I must admit some concern about the van so no unnecessary trips were taken with it. That's just as well as when I got into town it developed a coolant leak -like I needed another van issue to worry about.

Fortunately, I was in town and had a reservation to get the diesel system fixed the next day. As I pulled in, my mechanic was just taking the last car out of the bay before he was going to head home. He found the coolant leak and in a way it's related to my fuel problems. The diesel fuel filter is in a tight place. I've been moving the coolant lines out of the way to work on the fuel filter. One of those lines didn't quite bounce back into place so got abraded by a pulley.

Even my mechanic thinks these constant van repairs are getting ridiculous.

The good news is that we did make it to the campground, had a great time, and made it back into town. Things could have been worse.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Education, what's the value?

First some personal background. When I was released from High School I attended a technical college for one semester. I paid for that one semester with savings and working part time after school. My courses were pretty challenging so I had to quit work to have time to study. I made honors but did not feel that school was for me. Dropping out was made easier by the fact that at that point I had yet to acquire any debt.

At the age of 37 I went back to college thanks to Vocational Rehabilitation. After 4 years I received a double major in Journalism and Literature.

So . . . is college worth it? At age 18 I could easily say no, and it was the right answer at the time. I was lucky enough to get into the fire service with a high school education. That's much harder to do these days.

Was college at 37 worth it? Indeed it was, but the state of New Hampshire footed the bill. It was worth it for me, but probably not worth it for the state. There are different ways of measuring value, but if they thought I'd earn a lot more money and pay higher taxes . . . that didn't happen.

Generally speaking, college might be worth it if you need the technical training and the degree to work in your chosen field. There are no self taught doctors working legally out there and who would want to go to one? Even then, it's easy to get in over one's head debt wise. Doctors may make a lot of money, but if that comes with 300,000 in debt, it'll take a long time to pay that off. What if you discover that you really don't want to be a doctor and have a passion for the arts instead? Too bad, that doctor debt is still yours.

Personally, I think there's a huge amount of value in a Liberal Arts education. Even though I was well read before, college filled in some gaps and help organize my thinking in a more systematic fashion. It also introduced me to areas of thought and study that had never been of interest to me before, yet provided fascinating insights never imagined. The college course and environment were a huge boost to my creativity and confidence. If money were no object, I'd recommend it for just about anyone.

However, money is a huge consideration. While a Liberal Arts education can pay, for most people it won't pay in dollars. A select few may find financial success, but it's almost as likely as becoming a pro athlete. If you can get an education without going into debt, jump at the chance, but otherwise be cautious.

Here's one thing they never talk about going to college. While my friends were in school, I was working. During those 4 – 6 years I bought and paid for a car, rural land, and took out a mortgage on a house in town. It was a good time to buy a house as prices were very low. I also got married and had a couple of kids. For me, it was a lot more satisfying than spending my late teens and early twenties in a classroom.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Let's play dress up

There's a lot of people dressing up as something they are not: Cosplay, medieval reenactors, zombie walkers, pirates, Civil War buffs -that's just a sampling. Then there's a Halloween. It was once a kids' holiday, but now it's an excuse for adults to dress up and party.

Ever wonder why it's so popular? Could at least of the reason be dissatisfaction with regular life? The most satisfied man in the world, when told to dress up as his favorite fantasy character would not have to change his wardrobe. Too few of us are living our fantasies.

A lot of little kids want to grow up to be Fireman. As someone who really did grow up to be one, let me tell you something. It's awesome. Now I wasn't all that turned on by the station uniform, but the turnout gear, the stuff worn to actually fight fires, is pretty cool. It's like getting dressed up in armor for combat with the red dragon. There's the adrenaline rush of life and death situations. Maybe it's a bit like the thrill of combat, but instead of trying to kill people, you get to save them. To top it all off, there are woman who think Firefighters are hot. It's good to live a fantasy job.

Now that I'm retired I don't dress up like that anymore. However, I am retired so I can dress up any darn way I want. Mostly, however, my garb is pretty mundane. Shorts, T-shirt, sandals, and a big hat to keep my balding head from catching fire in the sun. I don't have to impress anyone. My clothes are practical for my day to day life.

At least I don't have to wear the uniform of suit and tie that so many people have to put on. Many are so used to the uniform that they think it's normal. Some even like it. I think a tie is a kind of leash for a domesticated pet, but that's just me.

Now all I have to do is find a practical reason for getting a nifty pair of pirate boots. Those are pretty cool. They've got those rolled down cuffs that look so great. They can be rolled up to cover most of the leg. Maybe I can get a really well made pair, with some grip on the soles, and with soft waterproof leathers that can easily be rolled up. It would be perfect for landing on a muddy beach in a small boat. Yep, now I want a pair. Besides, they would go with my tricorner hat.

So if you ever down the waterfront and meet some weird guy in shorts, T-shirt and pirate boots, it'll probably be me, just living out my fantasy life.


Monday, August 4, 2014

Car parts and the end of quality

Well it happened again. I ordered a part for my van and was shipped the wrong part. I ordered a filter head for my veggie fuel filters. Twice in the past the auto parts store successfully presented the part needed. This time around they presented the correct box, with a totally different part inside. Over the years I've learned to open boxes and inspect parts.

This goes in my personal hall of auto parts shame: the time I was handed Ford brake pads for a Dodge car, the time two left front rotors where shipped when I needed both sides. That fiasco cost me two nights in a Louisianan hotel room waiting for the correct parts. Then there's a long list of things like wrong thermostats and electrical parts. The list of wrong parts in the right box is longer than it should be. Can anyone in the the warehouse read English?

Then there was the recent saga of the Chinese built fuel pumps. Right out of the box they sounded like dying electric can openers -a sickly sound. The original Ford parts are dead quiet. The Chinese ones go about 500 miles before burning out. Now I'm running a Ford original again.

Anybody buy a new car a few years back and have the alternator fail in about 6 months? A major car company, which shall remain nameless, (their lawyers are bigger than my lawyers) shipped a lot of cars with suppar alternators. When it came time to replace the alternator, the choice was another one with a short lifespan or a much better one for just a few dollars more. Darn few ever went with the good ones. Go figure.

Sometimes I wand to just go live on a sailboat -one without an engine.


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Ebola threat reassessment

I don't like to be an alarmist. There's enough real threats out there without me crying wolf at the first tiny perceived hint of danger. Most things that people have to prepare for are pretty mundane. They are much more likely to suffer financial disruption than EMPs from space. It's not that EMPs aren't real. It's just a lot further down the probability list than losing a job. Prepare for the most likely stuff first. Know your area and what threats could cause major problems. (hurricanes, tornadoes, ice storms, earthquakes -regional threats, mostly) When you know what your most likely dangers are, then you know what to prepare for.

Ebola is a different sort of threat. Right now odds look pretty good for people in first world countries. So why am I concerned? While the threat may be thought of as pretty low, should it gain a foothold the results would be horrific. In Africa Ebola has something like a 90 percent fatality rate.

I've done some research and came to some disturbing conclusions. In the past, Ebola could be prevented with pretty standard infection control procedures. Those aren't working as well as they did in the past. Something may have changed. There's some thought that this version of the disease may be transmitted by blood droplets suspended in the air.

Allowing an obviously sick person to fly on an International flight seemed like a silly idea. Nobody would let that happen, right? Wrong. It has already happened.

There's another potential infection path that hasn't gotten a lot of mention in the press. Doctors who've gotten sick in Africa have been flown to their home countries for treatment. My heart goes out to those health care workers who've put their lives on the line. The compassionate thing to do is to get them the best treatment a first world hospital can provide. However . . . didn't I say something about normal infection control measures not working so well this time around?

Should an infection break out in a major metropolitan area, expect governments to panic. The only truly effective way to combat this infection is by quarantine. People's movements would get restricted very quickly. If your plan is to get out into the countryside during a pandemic, you'd better have your plans ready to go at a moment's notice. At the very least, everyone should be prepared to hunker down in the house for a number of weeks or even months.

Here's the real horror. The things that I fear might happen here are happening right now in Africa. Our brothers and sisters are in dire need and the rest of the world hardly cares. Major pharmaceutical companies don't think there's any money to be made looking for a cure. Many of Africa's heath care systems struggle during normal times. These are not normal times.


Saturday, August 2, 2014

How to not appear homeless

Being homeless can really suck. There can be a lot of walking around in shabby clothes while smelling bad. Fortunately, there's a situation where that's perfectly socially acceptable, even admired a little. Every summer there are many many people walking around my area that fit that description. No one is upset by them. Unlike normal homeless people, folks engage them in conversation. What's their secret? They are hiking the Appalachian Trail.

There are worse things one can do with one's time. It's good exercise. The scenery is beautiful. Interesting people are your companions. The hobo look is frowned upon in cities, but on the trail it's normal. It doesn't cost much money. If your gear is a bit sub par, make it a virtue. You are trying to get back to the basics of hiking while rejecting high tech gear. That raises your status from poor bum to a person on a philosophical quest.

It doesn't have to be hiking. Go on a long canoe or kayak trip. The boat I'm building would actually make a pretty neat set up for a homeless person. It's only 12 feet long so doesn't need to be registered. No need for gas because it can be rowed or sailed. It even has a small cabin to get out of the weather. A small boat is a great platform for fishing and foraging wild edible plants. Even people in good sized boats dress casual and many don't take daily showers to conserve water. It's normal.

Maybe you'd prefer to travel around on a bicycle. Tell people you are on a cross country trip. It's just one more excuse for living rough with minimal gear.

Here's the perfect camouflage: notebooks. Scribble in a notebook now and them. Tell people you are writing a book. It's very hard to tell the difference between a writer and an unemployed bum. In fact, you could actually write the book. Even this blog makes enough money to keep me in beans and rice.


Friday, August 1, 2014

Never enough clamps

The boat project progresses, I assure all of you. It's nothing much to take a photo of. Some of what I'm doing doesn't really show up in a photograph. There's not much visual difference between coats of epoxy. I'm also building some windows and a cabin hatch, but they might not end up on the boat. Sometimes I've got to build something to see how it'll look.

Anybody who's ever built a boat has the same complaint: there are never enough clamps. Boat building employs a lot of adhesives and bent lumber. That means clamps and plenty of them. Often I find myself waiting for the glue to set up so the clamps can be moved to the next piece of work. It really doesn't pay to be hasty. There's a lot of waiting for things to cure, set or dry.

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet I've been researching different ways of building leeboards and rudders. I've lost track how many videos, forum posts, and web sites I've looked at. Some designs use materials that are already in my supply pile, so those ideas get moved up the priority list.

I've some marine hardware and Spectra Rope on order. Some things can't be picked up at the local hardware store. However, nuts, bolts, pins, and screws come right out of my local Tractor Supply. Their stainless steel hardware has held up as well or better than the official marine stainless. Those little things add up so it's a significant price savings.

The sailboat is far enough along that my lovely wife and I are trying out different names to see if one will fit. I'm thinking that the shorter the boat the longer the name. Since this is a 12 foot boat, it's going to have one monster of a name. If you don't have displacement you've got to have attitude.

The boat build is moving along. Some builders do really fine smooth work. I'm not one of those. At some point I'll get tired of sanding, put some paint on it and call it good. Can't make it too pretty or I'll be afraid to use it.

Now if only I could rustle up some more clamps . . .